Leading Drive-Thru Innovation with Wendy’s FreshAI

How Wendy’s is enhancing customer and crew experiences with industry-leading generative AI technology

Car in Wendy's Drive-Thru with customer talking to Wendy's FreshAI

Earlier this year, Wendy’s® announced an expansion of our partnership with Google Cloud, tapping into world-class technology and resources to develop an industry-leading generative AI platform, what we’re calling Wendy’s FreshAI™. At the heart of our innovation is enhancing the crew and customer experience the Wendy’s way: focusing on quality and meeting our customers where and how they want to order their Wendy’s favorites. 

We created Wendy‘s FreshAI to overcome the challenges traditional AI could not solve in the drive-thru, including understanding casual conversation with customers and handling Wendy’s menu full of customizations and configurations. After months of testing Wendy’s FreshAI in our hometown of Columbus, OH, we’ve learned a lot while reimagining the drive-thru experience. Today, we’re excited to share an update on our progress and plans to expand the technology to more restaurant locations in the U.S.

Why use generative AI to automate the Wendy’s drive-thru?

Experimenting with traditional rule-based AI chatbots can take years of development and tremendous work to maintain, modify and expand capabilities. Unlike traditional rule-based systems, Wendy’s FreshAI uses generative AI to generate responses and adapt in real-time instead of just following a narrow set of rules. Wendy’s FreshAI is not just a speaker and a microphone – it's a personalized, responsive experience for every customer. Considering there are more than 200 billion ways to order a Dave’s Double®, leveraging generative AI is a crucial piece of innovating the Wendy’s drive-thru experience for customers. 

How is Wendy’s FreshAI benefiting customers and crew?

We take a simplistic and transparent view of what success means. We measure success by real-world results: orders submitted without human intervention and a consistent experience at the drive-thru. After all, in the end, it’s all about delivering an unmatched experience for both our crew and our customers. Wendy’s FreshAI is enhancing: 

  • Speed: The benefits of speed of service continue throughout the time a customer is in the drive-thru, with one test site showing service times 22 seconds faster than the Columbus market average. The technology is allowing restaurant teams to focus on preparing and completing orders to serve up quality and speed. 
  • Accuracy: Other companies working in this space define the term “accuracy” as any order that is started by the AI assistant and submitted to the point-of-sale system. This also includes orders where a crew member joins the conversation to correct an inaccuracy. With this as a benchmark, Wendy’s FreshAI success rate can be nearly 99%. Our accuracy during the pilot, measured as the percentage of orders successfully handled by Wendy’s FreshAI without restaurant team member intervention, averaged 86% and we would expect the average to only to increase.

How does Wendy’s FreshAI work with the restaurant teams? 

Think of Wendy’s FreshAI as an assistant – not a replacement – to empower Wendy’s crew members working the drive-thru. Wendy’s FreshAI allows our crew to focus on what matters most: preparing and serving hot and delicious food customized for our fans and building the relationships that bring them back.

We continue to work closely with our partners in operations and at the restaurant as we evolve Wendy’s FreshAI for our customers and crew while bringing more locations online. In fact, our Wendy’s technology and operations teams have spent thousands of hours working from the dining rooms of our restaurants to observe and talk to the crew and customers about their experience. With this fully immersive approach, we developed a short feedback loop with our key audiences, helping us update and shape the technology efficiently and effectively. 

Ready to see Wendy’s FreshAI at your local drive-thru?

Wendy’s FreshAI is now active across four Company restaurants in the Columbus, OH market, with more slated through end of 2023 and into early 2024. We’re also offering opportunities for franchisees to pilot Wendy’s FreshAI in 2024, as we continue to receive interest from many who are eager to evolve their own restaurant experiences with this innovative technology.

We remain focused on providing the fast, accurate and consistent drive-thru experiences our customers expect from us. This means resisting the urge to deploy widely and too quickly. We are still in the early stages of iterating and evolving Wendy’s FreshAI to serve our customers as we scale to more restaurants.

What’s next for Wendy's AI innovation?

Wendy’s cutting-edge FreshAI platform is designed to transform drive-thru ordering by delivering greater speed, accuracy and consistency to customers. But, we won‘t stop there. We plan to continue expanding Wendy's FreshAI to new, exciting channels while enhancing our restaurant team and customer experiences. This could include integrating AI with the Wendy’s app, in-restaurant kiosks, mobile devices, smart home devices and more with a multi-channel approach to provide the best experience for our fans – however they choose to order.